“They look at me like I’m a monster and my crime is the only deciding factor,” Seiler tells Nancy Mullane in her new book, “Life After Murder.”
Seiler is one of five murderers Mullane tracks as they come up for parole and struggle to find life, love and employment on the outside. Their crimes were awful; their childhoods were complicated, even tragic; and their lives were soaked in drugs and alcohol. Seiler killed a drug dealer and gang leader he suspected of sleeping with his wife and encouraging her methamphetamine addiction: He shot the dealer in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun. Donald Cronk took to robbery to support his cocaine addiction. During one robbery attempt, he was suprised by his intended victim and was shot three times. While sprawled on the floor, he fired through his coat pocket and killed the other man.
All five murderers Mullane profiles served 20 or more years. They were young, some even teenagers, when they committed their horrible crimes, and, while in prison, they all worked with dedication to prove to a skeptical parole board that they had evolved into responsible, nonthreatening men.
“Life After Murder” provides a revealing glimpse into the prison system in California, where even if the parole board recommends an inmate’s release, the governor has the authority to overrule the decision. Mullane’s murderers all were deemed worthy of parole only to have their freedom snatched away at least once by a governor aiming to look tough on crime.
Mullane, a radio reporter whose work has been heard on NPR and Public Radio International’s “This American Life,” builds a convincing case for a reexamination of parole policies for reformed inmates. She shows that a reconsideration is not only humane but economic — a lifer costs state and federal governments between $30,000 and $100,000 a year. Between 1977 and 2011, California inmates serving life with the possibility of parole saw their average time served expand from 10.5 years to 31 years, according to data Mullane provides. “So few are getting out, most lifers will die in prison,” Bill Sessa, press spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, tells Mullane.
If longer lockups are motivated by a fear that California murderers let out onto the streets will kill again, that concern is misplaced. Mullane points out that of the 1,000 killers who were sentenced to life with the possibility of parole and were released in the past 21 years, “not one has committed murder again. Zero.”
The California inmates’ tales have relevance in Maryland and Oklahoma, where the governors also have the power to reverse parole board recommendations. Mullane notes that few Maryland lifers with the possibility of parole ever walk free again: Between 1995 and 2007, 13 were paroled, and since 2007, none, according to her data.